SEATTLE — Celebrity crab-boat captain Sig Hansen won't face criminal charges on claims that he sexually abused his toddler daughter nearly three decades ago, Snohomish County prosecutors said Tuesday after conducting a review of old case materials.
"We have concluded that it's outside our charging standards and we're going to maintain our original decision not to charge Mr. Hansen," Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Matthew Baldock said.
Meantime, a civil lawsuit against Hansen brought by his estranged daughter, Melissa Eckstrom, remains on hold until the state Court of Appeals decides whether a King County judge's ruling that would allow the civil case to go to trial is legally sound.
Hansen, 50, a Shoreline, Washington, resident who has gained fame as the hard-charging Norwegian-American skipper of the Seattle-based fishing vessel The Northwestern on the cable TV series "The Deadliest Catch," has vehemently denied the allegations, labeling them "an old-fashioned shakedown."
"I am not surprised that the conclusion Snohomish County prosecutors reached today is the same as the one they reached back in 1990," Hansen said in a statement issued by a spokesman Tuesday. "Following that decision, a King County judge ruled — after a six-day trial — that I was innocent of the horrible charges concocted by my ex-wife. The judge and court-appointed experts examined all of the evidence in the case and reached the same conclusion: that the allegations simply were not true."
A lawyer for Eckstrom said Tuesday his client also wasn't surprised by the prosecutors' decision.
"We sort of expected it," attorney Lincoln Beauregard said. "Melissa was not optimistic that they would charge him, and we believe they (prosecutors) were professional in how they handled this review. But we are disappointed that they didn't interview Melissa because we think her testimony is key."
The allegations against Hansen date back to the early 1990s, when he was going through a contentious divorce and custody battle with his first wife, Lisa Eckstrom. Their daughter, Melissa, was 2 when she allegedly complained to relatives that her father had touched her inappropriately during a visit with him, according to records. The girl's complaints eventually led to medical exams and investigations by police and state child welfare social workers.
After the allegations emerged, Edmonds police arrested Hansen in the summer of 1990, records show. Prosecutors later reviewed the case at least three times in 1990 and 1991, opting each time not to file charges because of proof problems.
"This is not to suggest we do not believe the allegations," Deputy Prosecutor Paul Stern wrote in an August 1990 letter to Lisa Eckstrom, after the first case review. "To the contrary, the information at hand suggests that Mr. Hansen has acted in a sexually inappropriate manner toward Melissa."
A judge handling the divorce and custody case eventually ruled that the abuse did not occur. Hansen gave up his parental rights to his daughter at the conclusion of the case.
Eckstrom, now 28 and a family-law attorney in Seattle, filed a civil suit against Hansen last year, claiming the alleged abuse led to major emotional problems during her life. After she went public with her allegations last month, prosecutors took another look at the allegations against Hansen. Under Washington law, sex crimes committed against children generally can be prosecuted up to the victim's 30th birthday.
Eckstrom's case relies on her memories of the abuse, as well as medical examinations, a therapist's evaluation and state Child Protective Services' findings from the time that concluded Hansen likely sexually abused her.
Hansen and his attorneys have offered their own records and set up a website — sighansenfacts.com — to rebut the allegations. The documents include a letter from a polygraph examiner that states Hansen passed a lie-detector test in 1990 during which he denied the allegations, and written statements from a social worker and an ex-boyfriend of Lisa Eckstrom that Hansen's lawyers contend show she probably made up the abuse claims.
In their latest review, prosecutors looked at the various witness statements, medical documentation and other records from the time, Baldock, the deputy prosecutor, said. The office considered "some additional material that the victim's attorney provided our office, mostly generated during the civil litigation," he added.
Baldock said he also consulted with specialists about various aspects of case materials, and both he and Snohomish County Prosecutor Mark Roe conducted separate reviews, he said. The review did not determine whether or not Hansen was innocent, Baldock said, but rather assessed whether enough proof exists to persuade a jury to convict him of sexual abuse.
"It was a thorough review, and after looking at everything, our position remains the same as back in 1990," Baldock said.
(Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this story.)